We sat down with Carolina Álvarez - Mathies, the impeccably chic Deputy Director of Dallas Contemporary, for a conversation on career, community, and beauty. At the helm of the world-class museum in the buzzy Texan city, the Salvadoran art enthusiast is a visionary force behind the institution. Warm, elegant, and with her characteristic sense of humor, Carolina is always the girl you want to talk to at the party. Read along for her wisdom on a non-linear career path, why you need gardenias in your bathroom, and her simple approach to beauty that has been passed down through three generations.
What is your hometown, and where do you live today?
San Salvador, El Salvador. Currently I live in Dallas, Texas.
Tell us about your work and your mission
My mission truly is ever evolving. I see myself as a connector. Bringing people together is most certainly what brings me joy. Building community is essential to me, many times we are asked to find our mission, our passion and then find our community -- for me it has worked the other way around. Through travels and chance encounters I have built a beautiful network of like minded individuals who are curious and generous -- uplifting others voices, mainly artists is where I am focusing my energy at this time.
I moved to Dallas about a year and half ago to become Deputy Director of Dallas Contemporary, a non-profit museum that focuses on contemporary art through exhibitions, publications and learning programs. We are modeled after a European kunsthalle which means that we are an art hall and a non-collecting museum. One of the most unique aspects about Dallas Contemporary is that more often than not our exhibitions are commissions for the museum -- visitors have the rare opportunity to view never before seen work and artists are able to expand their practice. All at free admission.
We have four exhibitions on view at this time: Yoshitomo Nara, one of Japan’s most highly regarded living artists. The survey brings together over 70 of his works on cardboard, wooden billboards as well as sculpture -- many of them are being exhibited for the first time. Also on view is Liu Xiaodong, a key figure in the 1990s Chinese Neo-Realist movement. For DC he presents a new body of work, mainly based on direct observation. For 8 weeks he embedded himself in various border communities and cities. Through paintings, documentation and a video the exhibition showcases life at the border beyond what is portrayed in the media. We are also showing legendary fashion photographer Paolo Roversi. His exhibition focuses on his 40+ year collaboration with Comme des Garçons and its founder Rei Kawakubo. In our black box theatre, Ariel René Jackson debuts a lyrical film essay, the work considers what data is appropriate when speculating about a cultural past that has been erased by colonialism and industrial progress.
"My mission truly is ever evolving. I see myself as a connector. Bringing people together is most certainly what brings me joy. Building community is essential to me, many times we are asked to find our mission, our passion and then find our community -- for me it has worked the other way around."
Previously you worked at Creative Time and Museo El Barrio. How did your experience here prepare you for your role at Dallas Contemporary.
Well, I’d love to also point out that my first job was actually in fashion working for Angel Sanchez -- that experience was integral to my formation. After that I moved into the art world.
My non-linear background is most certainly one of my greatest strengths. From working in press, comms and sales in fashion to transitioning to a collecting museum like El Museo del Barrio and then a public arts non-profit like Creative Time where I merged comms and development into one department -- wearing all these different hats have allowed me to explore different comms and revenue models -- but most importantly they have allowed to me remain curious, to remain open to learning and investigating new models of bringing people together while keeping a sound and healthy institution.
In December of 2019 came onboard a vibrant institution that is at the forefront of contemporary art in the United States -- in one of the nation’s fastest-growing metroplexes and three months into my role here we were forced to close down the museum for 9 months due to COVID.
We immediately saw a huge pivot in the way we engage with our audience and donors. Our digital channels went from being how we communicated our programming to becoming our programming. We revamped our website, started an initiative called #dcromhome that acted as a hub for digital exhibitions, interviews and activities, as well as an online shop to raise funds for dc. The ability to quickly pivot to new fundraising models that more closely resemble a start up than a non-profit within two weeks of being closed definitely came from my time in fashion and retail.
"My non-linear background is most certainly one of my greatest strengths...they have allowed to me remain curious, to remain open to learning and investigating new models of bringing people together while keeping a sound and healthy institution."
How do your Salvadoran roots influence your role as Deputy Director at Dallas Contemporary?
I don’t know there has been a direct impact. Of course, I am and feel SO Salvadoran, my gestures, my tastes, my salvi slang, my essence in a way -- I am very proud of it, of where I come from. It has definitely shaped me.
More than the impact on my career I question topics like the impact I have in El Salvador while also having lived outside of it for so long, what it means to build a life outside of “home,” while also feeling like the notion of home itself is always a split narrative. This leads to questions about womanhood, identity, self, memory…
What are some of your favorite Latin American artists at the moment?
Guadalupe Maravilla, is a brilliant Salvadoran artist who I truly admire. He is a transdisciplinary artist working in sculpture, performance and sound healing. During the Salvadoran civil war he fled and came to the US as an unaccompanied minor. His work often deals with that subject. He has a show opening at Socrates Sculpture Park in NY on 15 May. Beatriz Cortez who is also from El Salvador and based in LA is an artist I follow closely -- her work deals with memory and also imagining possible futures. Eddie Rodolfo Aparico is also Salvadoran and based in LA -- he is working on these sort of rubber tapestries that are achieved by painting layer of rubber onto a tree until they are thick enough to be peeled off -- I find this way of documenting nature and a landscape quite fascinating.
I was in Mexico about a week ago and got to see so many wonderful artists. A standout was Renata Morales. We are showing her work here at Dallas Contemporary this fall. She works across disciplines from art to fashion and music, and excels in each quite wonderfully. I am really drawn to her ceramic work which she is producing in Guadalajara at Cerámica Suro.
In a few words, define your approach to beauty
I like simplicity. For me, less is more when it comes to beauty -- I’ve never worn a lot of makeup or been too excessive with my skincare routine -- definitely learned that from my grandmother and mother -- to take care of myself but never in a way that feels unnatural or overdone.
I think it’s also a Latin American approach to beauty. Perhaps it has something to do with our climates—you can’t really wear too much because it all comes off anyway with the humidity -- so taking care of my skin was always a priority to wearing makeup.
"I like simplicity. For me, less is more when it comes to beauty...definitely learned that from my grandmother and mother -- to take care of myself but never in a way that feels unnatural or overdone."
Has a particular exhibition or artist ever influenced one of your beauty looks
I think I have been more influenced by individuals that I’ve met - I’m always curious about routines, and what people are using -- especially natural remedies and oils from different corners of the world. Each place has its “beauty secrets” -- there is nothing better than visiting local markets and discovering those.
What is your favorite inherited beauty lesson or practice, from your mother, family, culture?
I don’t really experiment a ton with makeup or beauty. All I wear is tinted moisturizer, a tiny bit of bronzer, brows and mascara. even my evening looks -- at most I’ll do a red lip!
I think it goes back to what I was talking about earlier: It’s always about this beautiful balance. I’ve always admired how my mother and grandmother always look radiant, but natural. Somehow they know what's perfect for every occasion, whether at the beach or at a black tie event, there is a time and a place for everything -- I definitely learned that from them.
But you know, we are Latinas after all so siempre hay que arreglarse un poquito -- you never know who you might meet at the supermarket ;)
"It’s always about this beautiful balance. I’ve always admired how my mother and grandmother always look radiant, but natural."
Who is your beauty icon?
Walk us through your skincare routine.
During lockdown I was living with my friend and his parents, I had just moved to Dallas and they are like family. Terry, my friend’s mom showed me this product that they sell at Whole Foods called Colloidal Silver Shampoo from a brand called Heritage Store. It has salicylic acid, colloidal silver, and tea tree essential oils -- it’s been a game changer.
For serums and hydration I like Herbivore and Sharla’s. From Herbivore -- I am using their new Cloud Pink Plumping Hydration Serum and I have their Phoenix, Lapis and Orchid oils that I mix depending on my mood or how my skin is feeling. Sharla’s is a brand out of McKinney, Texas -- Sharla Bush is wonderful and her products are so clean and really have such a high concentration of ingredients. From her I use pure squalene, skin lipid moisturizer and a hyaluronic formula, which you can buy online. Lastly, my last and most important step is a layer of Skin Food from Weleda.
Your favorite DIY home beauty practice?
Ohh, rose water ice cubes! If I am feeling a little bit puffy or tired I roll a round ice cube around my face, especially my eye area. They are super easy to make, all it takes is rose water and one of those silicone ice tray molds - they ones you use for highball glasses.
Tell us about your favorite beauty destination - spa, store, practitioner?
There is a lady in San Salvador, Norita. She has been giving me facials since I was young -- the first place I ever went, and still loyal to her. My mom and grandma visit her too!
Who or what is your best kept beauty secret?
Norita, for sure, but also… and this is more a vibe thing… I always keep gardenias in my bathroom. It changes my mood immediately. I get them delivered from HighCamp Gardenia.
However, at home, my great grandmother started this tradition of planting gardenias around the house, especially outside the bedrooms, in El Salvador the windows are open so much that when they are blooming the whole house smells of them. My grandmother did the same thing, and my mom does it now, too!
One beauty ritual or product that you’re dying to try?
A great wellness tip?
I think it’s the oldest tip in the book, but it works — warm water and lemon as soon as you wake up.
How do you keep active?
A trainer comes to my house -- in the middle of the pandemic I was meeting him outside which was nice, but now that I am vaccinated, I feel better about going somewhere indoors. I’m currently looking for a yoga or pilates studio.
Your favorite fruit?
I love all fruits, but my favorite is green mango with lime and salt.
Favorite tropical escape in Latin America?
El Salvador—100% Lake Coatepeque is a gem.